Tue Greenfort

»A Mountain Story«


Kunstraum Dornbirn

September 14 – November 4, 2012


This exhibition of the Danish artist brings together a series of stories on the production of art and culture, on ecology and economics, and links them with questions about (meanwhile) watered-down categories such as sustainability and the concept of nature, thus weaving them into a filigree web of overlapping themes and figurations. His formal starting point is the history and locality of Kunstraum Dornbirn, which he invests with a new spatial structure.
A structure that was formerly a factory assembly hall. Built in 1893, it had the purpose of simplifying the work process and also rationalizing it. A motivating economic force that is today mentioned in one breath with the loss of workplaces, but has an aspect that parallels ecology. Namely, here too, the issue is about applying resources sparingly, exactly like the dome that the artist has placed in the room. The seemingly contrasting motives behind economics and ecology team up here, but also raise questions. Just as does the exhibition title as well as the works assembled under its mantle.
When you reach a mountaintop, have you conquered nature or had a nature experience? What does the history of mountain climbing have to do with ecology, hippie dreams and dystopias? How can we confront the excesses of capitalism? By a do-it-yourself culture? Where does the (hi)story of ecology stop and the (hi)stories of rationalism begin? Can nature only be understood within a culture? How do you undermine boredom in contemporary art? What would Buckminster Fuller say? By way of a geodesic dome? And is this dome larger than a sculpture? Is it architecture or an artistic intervention?
Greenfort throws questions into the ring instead of providing answers and leaves it to viewers to come to their own conclusions. He hereby calls the institutional norms of contemporary art in question, likewise the function of art per se and the prerogative of interpretation that is linked to it. This is not about showing something true, good or beautiful, and certainly not at all about the visitor having to believe, or go along with, something. Rather the artist is interested in the democratization of a cognitive process, and thus concerns the emancipation of the viewer who must naturally also learn to deal with this.
Greenfort doesn’t see himself so much as an artist but more as a person who sets processes in motion and triggers reflection, deliberation, cerebration. As to the dome on view, it is also not clear how it should be defined. Is it an artwork by Tue Greenfort or architecture by Buckminster Fuller? In any case Greenfort has placed it in the room, and the question gets posed as to whether it is important that something be declared art or whether it’s not sufficient that, beginning from there, we can think about objects.
As already briefly mentioned, the dome was built from Richard Buckminster Fuller’s plans. He exhibited a 62m-high version of the building called a “geodesic dome” in 1967 at the World’s Fair in Montreal and quickly became famous. And not just because of its spectacular appearance, but for the idea behind it. He was concerned to produce the best possible functional structure with the least resources (the concept of synergetics and its effect originated with him); e.g., the exterior surface of the dome is 40 % smaller than a building with the same square base would need. The geodesic form was quickly taken up by hippies who began to build their own domes from castoff materials.
Here Greenfort uses sheets of tarpaulin such as the kind from construction sites, including the advertisements printed on them. Similar to the idea of the Friday bags, this tarpaulin is recycled and reused as covering; ads can be seen on the outside that however no longer animate us to consume and then throw away, but at the most to shield us from rain.
Now what does this have to do with climbing mountains? Recreation in nature was already in fashion in the early 19th century; the Austrian Alpine Club was founded in 1862. In a continuation, an increase in expeditions to higher regions took place, such as the Himalayas, where contact was made with the local mountain people. Cultures in barren regions are characterized by an extremely sparse and efficient lifestyle. This perception, among other things, led to the fact that alpinists in the 20th century were not just engaged in conquering the mountains but began to think not only about how to leave nature untouched, but also how to conserve it. The eco movement built on this, and naturally the hippies who recreated Buckminster Fuller’s domes.
Another model can be seen in front of the dome, also by Tue Greenfort, this time following a lightweight tent construction by Frei Otto from 1957. The point also with Tent (2007) is to produce functional architecture that conjures room for people out of advertising tarpaulin by means of a pair of poles, ropes and castoff material.
Also to be seen – but more to be heard – is the sound installation Audio System (2011), for which microphones have been installed inside and outside the Kunstraum. The signals are routed through a computer, which superimposes an audio filter and directs the signals per random generator back into the room where the different sounds are woven into a soundscape. Nature and people are brought into the room acoustically, which is otherwise more likely dominated by reverent silence.
Also with the work Conservation (2011) the artist allows the antithesis between nature and museum to cross swords. Normally the museum tries to safeguard and preserve the exhibited objects. The staff wants to get rid of woodworm and similar vermin. Wood, which is actually a living material, is deadened and made ready for eternity. Quite in contrary to the wood Greenfort uses, which is kept under a glass dome and inhabited by wood beetles, wood whose sheltered disintegration we can practically watch. At one time or other, only a pile of sawdust will remain under the glass. The issue here is time and the naturalness of transience, which also suggests a formal analogue to the hourglass. Whereby it is also not quite clear if the Kunstraum is in this way protected from the wood beetles or the beetles from the visitors.
The work Untitled (2010) is likewise a memento mori, but even more a discrete omen. From a bottle, 10 liters of alcohol can be withdrawn in small dosages and burnt in a bowl meant for this purpose. Ten liters: that is an Austrian’s average annual consumption. And the beaker with which the alcohol is poured allows us to realize that one needs 1,800 kilocalories daily in order to live, which corresponds to 15.7 cl. of alcohol. Many people, for instance in the third world, do not have this amount of sustenance at their disposal.
With this exhibition, Tue Greenfort has not only assembled items, but tried to create a structure. The objects should not be seen as art, but as a process. This is a project that is borne by many minds, not by individuality. Whether these be the historical positions, the coworkers, theorists and philosophers that have contributed their part to the way the exhibition looks or the visitors themselves: it is about the many stories – also the visitors’ personal ones – that generate the interaction. And thus creates a consciousness of the fact that one is part of a tradition and a (hi)story. And the exhibition not only revolves around history and stories, but attempts to be a narration, a process in itself: an open, at times chaotic but dynamic entity, without an abrupt beginning or end.